With Raytheon Deal, UML Broadens Global Reach
By Kyle Clauss
LOWELL -- As many good stories do, UMass Lowell's expansion into Kuwait, financed by Raytheon, began at a dinner party.
"(Raytheon officials) go to receptions for diplomats," Provost Ahmed Abdelal said. "And we do, too."
As per long-standing business practices, the Waltham-based military defense contractor was expected to invest in the region in exchange for doing business there. This "offset money" is typically intended for economic development.
Rather than investing in agriculture or, as Abdelal said, "another shrimp farm," Raytheon tapped UML to improve higher education in Kuwait.
The partnership makes sense. Raytheon hires more engineers from UML than from any other university, Chancellor Marty Meehan told The Sun at a recent editorial board meeting. The $50 million, seven-year plan, partnering with Kuwait's Gulf University of Science and Technology (GUST), will establish five undergraduate and 11 graduate-degree programs -- and supply Raytheon with a pipeline of talent.
In return, the university will expand even farther into the Middle East without fear of financial risk, thanks to Raytheon's funding.
"A lot of the world's problems could be solved by universities and faculty members worldwide," Meehan said.
"Raytheon and the UMass Lowell have a long-standing relationship, and through this partnership, have entered into a more focused agreement that will benefit both organizations in advancing technology and developing of new engineering talent," Raytheon public-relations manager Ian Davis said in an email.
Once UML signed on, Raytheon placed ads in Kuwaiti newspapers in search of a suitor. They received proposals from six schools before selecting GUST, the first private university established in Kuwait in 2002.
UMass Lowell, which has 150 memorandums of understanding with countries around the world, is no stranger to the region, with working relationships with schools in Israel, Jordan, Egypt and Turkey. The university's first such exchange program began with two schools in Ireland.
"Kuwait is obviously a strategic ally to the United States," Meehan said.
Abdelal said security concerns have been addressed by both Raytheon and the Kuwaiti government, while Meehan called the nation of roughly 4 million people "stable and moderate."
"A lot of countries in the Middle East, but Kuwait is a prime example, they are very sensitive to security," Abdelal said. "They are one of the biggest customers of Raytheon because of their sensitivity to security.
"We are probably better than the State Department in security," Abdelal added.
Raytheon declined comment on security measures taken by GUST.
Each of the five graduate programs in Kuwait will welcome 50 students in September: 25 men and 25 women. Once these programs are fully established, the school will employ 100 faculty members and serve 1,200 students, who will receive dual degrees from both GUST and UML.
Degrees will be offered in engineering, business, education and science. Non-lab programs will be held while the new college of engineering's wet labs are constructed.
"This is a UMass Lowell degree, and it's something countries around the world are interested in," said Meehan, citing UML's highly acclaimed rating in a listing of top global universities compiled by U.S. News & World Report.
Three UML faculty members have already made the move to Kuwait to help develop curriculum for a soft launch. Despite Raytheon's financial involvement, administrators stressed the defense contractor will have no influence over curriculum development or faculty selection.
"They will have no academic oversight. None. Zero," Abdelal said.
The expansion abroad coincides with record growth at the Lowell campus. In the five years since Meehan became chancellor, UML has doubled its enrollment to 17,000 students. Meehan expects enrollment to top 21,000 in three years, and reach 25,000 by 2025.
With 10 new academic and housing buildings sprouting up on and around campus since 2007, the university may need more space to accommodate the influx of students, including those from the Kuwait programs, who will have the opportunity to study at the Lowell campus in the summer.
"Our goal is to be a three-semester campus. A full-year campus," Abdelal said.
"If you're going to have dorms and house students from the Middle East, it had better be air-conditioned," Meehan said.
While Meehan was adamant that UML would not establish a River Hawks football team anytime soon, the GUST Falcons men's football team -- soccer around here -- placed second in last year's University Championship Cup, held amongst Kuwait's private universities.
UMass Lowell's involvement in Kuwait begs the question: When will the River Hawks play an exhibition game against the Kuwaiti Falcons -- the only Arab team to win membership to the International Ice Hockey Federation?